Lately it seems like everyone I meet is in a hurry to make big money as a freelance writer.
One writer recently wrote me she needed to know how to make money “on the hurry-up.” Another told me she wanted to know what type of freelance writing to focus on “to quickly earn well.”
Turns out she’d spent a year procrastinating on getting started, and was teetering on bankruptcy.
Yet another proudly announced she recently hit her snapping point with her longtime, six-figure corporate job after her boss refused to give her leave time to care for a dying parent.
She’d walked out! With no plan for what to do next, and apparently, no savings.
Now, she had discovered freelance writing and wanted to know if she could replace that fat income with freelance writing work. Like, now.
It seems like it’s time to discuss realistic expectations for pursuing a freelance writing career.
How long it’s going to take to ramp your freelancing
Just to clear up any misconceptions bouncing around out there, freelance writing is not some easy, short road to riches for anybody who can sling two sentences together.
In fact, I recently saw a freelance-writing coach colleague of mine describe it to one desperate writer as “one of the worst jobs for raising fast cash.” That about sums it up.
Anyone who is getting into freelance writing because they think it is a magical instant cash machine, turn back now.
If you love to write, are willing to write a lot and keep improving, and are willing to write for others about what their audience needs to know — as opposed to whatever you feel like writing about this morning — then this can be a great career for you.
You can earn well at it, but it will generally take time to get there.
How fast you can ramp this is going to depend a lot on you.
A few questions to ask yourself:
Have you run a solo business before?
Do you have a writing portfolio from your day gig or maybe past freelancing that you could put together on a writer website to impress prospects?
How aggressively are you willing to market yourself?
Do you have any past editors or marketing managers who might help you with referrals?
How much free time can you devote to this?
How open are you to getting some training in writing or marketing that might provide a shortcut to earning faster?
How long can you survive on your savings before you will be desperate and have to take any gig?
Would you be willing to work some kind of side job or liquidate assets to support your freelance dreams?
Even an experienced writer with previous business experience isn’t going to instantly earn six figures as a freelance writer. I know writers who variously pumped gas and worked as a bar back while they were getting established.
For instance: I left 12 years of staff writing jobs to freelance in 2005, and I had run a home-based freelance business before as a script typist.
It still took about six months of aggressively beating the street talking to prospects to find good clients and replace my income.
I was lucky to have a modest severance check and unemployment checks to help me get over the hump. We also had a good credit rating and access to more money if we needed it.
If you have no money at all, it will be hard to end up earning well.
Why? You’ll soon need to take any and all freelance gigs you can scrounge up.
You’ll be haunting the Craigslist ads and joining the content mills just to bring in a little cash.
Soon you will discover the ironic formula of freelance life:
The more desperate you are, the less you make
Desperation leads to having to accept poorly paid jobs, which means you must work every waking hour.
It’s hard to make the leap to the pro client level, where payments might take 30-90 days to arrive. Lots of writers tell me they’d love to get off the content mills, but that they couldn’t survive a month or two without that skimpy mill paycheck that comes promptly each week.
You can’t get ahead.
You’ve found some quick, easy money. But it’s not good money. Because if it were easy for freelance writers to earn good money, we’d all be millionaires.
All the low-paid work really kills your self-esteem. Soon, you think you deserve $10 an article.
You can’t even imagine there is good-paying writing work out there.
Even if you believe it’s real, you might have no idea how to find quality clients, or how to tell scams from good offers.
Often, this only leads to quickly going broke and having to go find another day job. Goodbye, dream of independence.
Quick money vs good money
Here’s the basic problem with the “quickly” mentality: In freelancing, as with any startup business, when you take the quick fast buck, it robs you of the time you need to find the big-money assignments and to do those better gigs.
You have to believe in your skills and have financial resources to be able to say “no” to insulting offers. But it’s the key to building a healthy freelance income.
It also means finding out how to identify great clients and market your services to them. And possibly a willingness to find creative ways to make ends meet in the meanwhile.
That’s the quickest way to build your business beyond the starvation level, to earn a healthy, sustainable living as a freelance writer.
What have you done as a writer for some quick cash? Leave a comment and tell us about it.